Kids are in control at Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

Students control a robotic longhorn at an exhibit in the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City. The regional educational center is holding a grand opening 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 14. Photos by Kevin Tully/A Smith Gallery

Students control a robotic longhorn at an exhibit in the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City. The regional educational center is holding a grand opening 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 14. Photos by Kevin Tully/A Smith Gallery

JOHNSON CITY — Most people would not connect an 1880-circa gristmill with the latest technology, but most people aren’t Bonnie Baskin.

The scientist and business entrepreneur passed by the old gristmill and cotton gin on Texas 290 in Johnson City during visits from Minnesota and later after buying a home in the community. But she didn’t see a mill to grind grain into flour; she envisioned it as a place where youth could develop a love for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

On Feb. 14, after a few years of planning and construction, Baskin and others will celebrate the grand opening of the Hill Country Science Mill.

“This is something she’s been working toward the last two-and-a-half years, getting the building ready and gathering and building exhibits,” said Lauren Halpern, a Hill Country Science Mill spokeswoman. “This is such an exciting event for everybody in the area.”

Students try out an autopsy exhibit at the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City.

Students try out an autopsy exhibit at the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City.

Johnson City might seem like an odd place to build a 10,000-square-foot science facility with state-of-the-art equipment, but its location actually fits into the mission of the regional center.

“Regional” being the key word.

“There really is an underserved area when it comes to STEM in the Hill Country,” Halpern said. “The big movement in education is getting kids interested in STEM.”

The Hill Country Science Mill features exhibits and programs that put kids right in the middle of STEM. This isn’t about looking at a display and reading a summary of it; the center’s purpose is to allow visitors to get their hands on the exhibits.

“It’s about getting kids to fall in love with science,” Halpern said. “You don’t fall in love with science by reading about it in a book. You have to do it.”

People can give commands to robotic animals in the Critter Bots display or build a race car for the Race Track. The Create an Explosion display allows kids to do just that, but in a controlled way.

Halpern said the Hill Country Science Mill steps in where other regional science programs such as the Thinkery in Austin begin to wind down. She explained that, while the Thinkery is geared toward younger children and elementary-aged students, the Hill Country Science Mill focuses on middle and high school students.

But there is something for all ages at the Johnson City science center.

The grand opening features a day of family fun with STEM exhibits, hands-on activities and a 3-D movie about great white sharks. Other activities during the grand opening include Mad Scientist face painting, Doctor Kold and his freezing experiments, a rainfall simulator and musical performances by Bobby Flores and the Yellow Rose Bands featuring Rebecca Henricks.

The grand opening is 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Hill Country Science Mill, 101 S. Lady Bird Lane. The facility also will be open Feb. 15-16 before it starts its regular hours of operation: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and military members, $6.50 for youth 2-18 (or with a student ID) and free for children under 2.

Go to www.sciencemill.org for more information.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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